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Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Few of My Favourite Things

One of my favourite parts about traveling is getting to eat the food. (except for the one time we spent a week in the aboriginal villages in Taiwan, that was a whole 'nother culinary experience I don't care to repeat, but the people were very generous!) Here is no exception and every time I return, I look forward to buying my favourite foods and enjoying them again.

I flew in to Albert Heijn as soon as I arrived (the equivalent of a Safeway or a Winco in the US) and picked up some food to tide me over the first five days. Of course I always buy way too much, but here's a quick peek at my shopping list.

  • Karnemelk (buttermilk)
  • Ananas sap (pineapple juice)
  • Tartex (a vegetable pate spread)
  • Stroopwafels (syrup waffles, a type of cookie)
  • Kokosbrood (slices of "coconut bread" that you place on top of bread, like a sweet deli slice)
  • Rozijnenbrood (raisin bread)
  • Vla (a custard-like dessert, I prefer the soy kind)
  • Hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles, put on bread with margarine)
  • Muisjes (anise sprinkles, also put on bread with margarine)
  • Kaas (cheese, Gouda of course!)
Yuuuum, I'm getting hungry. Time to eat breakfast!

A Bit of This and That

Returning to the Netherlands has been quite the cultural experience. As I stepped into the airport and familiar sounds and sights greeted me, I felt at home and yet not at home. It is a difficult experience to express, unless you too are a TCK (or third-culture kid). My sister is often more vocal about her wish to feel like she fits in, searching for a country and culture that she can claim as her own, while I try my best to blend into my host culture and revel in friends' jaws dropping as I hear for the hundredth time, "What do you mean you're not American? You mean you're a foreigner?" Unfortunately my skin tone and hair colour allow me to blend in nicely into a variety of cultures, which, while a blessing in some ways, also means that I'm not "exotic" enough to be considered a proper foreigner. Plus I don't have an accent. Not a real one, anyhow, except for the one time I spent a weekend around some of my sister's American friends and suddenly found myself lapsing into a very awkward British accent. They seemed to find it amusing to make fun of me and try to copy my strange ways of pronouncing common words.

I'm an observer of peoples and cultures and have found my time here very rewarding so far. First there are the bicycles. While in the US, pedestrians have right of way and then cars, here it is the opposite. There is an established pecking order, busses first, then bicycles, and finally pedestrians. There are very few overweight or obese people here. It's probably because they all ride bicycles. Everywhere! There are lanes specifically designated for bicycles and even little traffic lights with little red and green bicycles! The cutest thing is to see a mother flying by with a child securely strapped into a bicycle seat either in front or behind her or in a little wagon in front of the bicycle. Businessmen all dressed up for a day at the office also fly by on bicycles and students take collapsible bicycles on the train.

Speaking of trains, and busses, they are all on a very tight schedule around here. While ironically, the average everyday person will stand in their garden and chat with a passerby about the lovely weather, the person who is going somewhere must be in a desperate rush or they won't reach their destination. Trains pull into the station a minute ahead of schedule and you have about 30 seconds to get on before they pull out again. Bus drivers impatiently wait for you to hand over your 1.5 euro so they can stamp your dagretour (round-trip day ticket). Everyone is in a rush, rush, rush and if you don't keep up with the rush you'll get left behind.

Little towns, like the one I'm currently staying in, are very neat and clean. Large cities, like Amsterdam, look just like downtown San Francisco with garbage and graffiti obscuring the beauty. Everyone takes pride in their front window display, however. If you pass by someone's house and stop and look at their front window, you will invariably see an arrangement of flowers, or candles, or some other fancy decoration that is carefully placed in the window. Sometimes I stop to take a closer look as I walk past, but then worry they will think I'm peering into their house. But why have such a beautiful window display, then?

I think I enjoy the order of service at church. The Dutch are no-nonsense people and this comes through in their service that eliminates all the frills and fluff that other cultures find necessary. Church starts with a hymn, there are several Scripture readings and hymns, a children's story, an offering, the sermon, and two more hymns. All the necessary announcements are printed in the bulletin so people can read them at their leisure and are not announced up front, in triplicate, as people are instructed to "follow along in your bulletin" as if they can't read! The sermon is about 30 minutes long. Long enough to make a point and short enough that you can remember it.

And finally, I'll end with a humorous observation on the toilet-paper. Yes, you knew I had to address it. While Americans are proud of their recycled toilet-paper, you haven't seen toilet-paper until you've seen this! It's gray and could probably stand up on its own if necessary. Oddly enough, it isn't as rough as it looks. Of course it isn't the only kind of toilet-paper available and it may not even be recycled, but it sure makes for a good laugh!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Your Visa Is. . .

I'm looking forward to the day when there will be no more borders, visas, miles of paperwork, and immigration. When everyone will be able to come and go across a common land that we will all share. For me, that day cannot come soon enough!

Today, however, I experienced the joy of visiting the US consulate in Amsterdam, for the fourth time in the last 11 years, to request yet another visa. I was pondering whether I could request frequent flyer miles for my regular attendance, but decided the security guard at the gate would likely not find that amusing! Thankfully, everything went smoothly and I should be receiving my visa within a week or so. Once I have it in hand, I will have one last interview, for my green-card (date as yet to be determined) and then. Then I shall be finished with it all. Unless, of course, I decide to go and live in another country and have to begin the process all over again!!!

The actual visa interview is actually anti-climatic after so much preparation. I began the whole process months ago with my very helpful lawyer and was kept busy sending reams of photocopies over on a regular basis. The completed visa application came by Fed-Ex along with numerous sticky notes that directed me to "insert photocopy here" and "insert photocopy there" and "sign here." After compiling everything I needed, I was ready for the actual journey.

The journey from California to Amsterdam was no easy one. I encountered additional challenges along the way as I forgot to bring my medicine, the hotel I'd reserved was overbooked, our international flight was delayed 2 hours, a student demonstration was planned for the very day I had my appointment, and when I arrived at the consulate I found myself packed into a very small room with 50 other weary travelers.

My interview, on the other hand, was the fastest one yet. Though it took me two hours to get from initial entry to actual interview, the consul asked me several questions and two minutes later said the welcome words: "Your visa is approved."

To those who follow my blog and know me well, you will understand why those four words were bittersweet to hear. Life has been particularly challenging for some time now and I, the sanguine, hesitate to shout with joy. I am grateful, however.

I am grateful that I have a home, a car, and a job to return to. I am grateful that I have family and friends, both near and far. I am grateful for email to keep in touch with those who are far away. I am grateful I live in a country where women have freedoms and where I can understand the language! There are more things I'm grateful for, but I'm getting so sleepy I cannot think of them all.

I'm still thinking about those four words and a time still to come. Has my heavenly visa been approved? Somehow I'd like to think so. And there isn't a pile of paperwork required, either. Just a simple belief in Jesus and a single death on the Cross.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Vacations Are More Stressful Than Staying Home!

Sprinkles of Blessings:
  1. We watched The Barefood Executive tonight. It's an awesome Disney movie, made in Technicolor, that we used to love watching over 11 years ago!
  2. Found those mini-key-chain pens at Staples that my brother loves. Bought them for him as a celebration of the end-of-the-school-year.
  3. Grocery Outlet had So Delicious Chocolate Fudge Bars, yum for supper!
I have very little time left to get ready for my summer vacation and life is just getting too busy. Why is vacation so stressful? That night I have to stay in MSP, I'm getting more and more excited about that down-time. I've booked a lovely hotel and plan to check in, watch TV, sleep on the queen-sized bed, enjoy the free continental breakfast, and then watch more TV until my flight departs to Amsterdam. I need that time to just de-stress and try to forget all the junk that's invading my life right now.

Watching George Lopez right now, it's one of my favourite shows!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sprinkles of Blessings

I've decided to try to include a section in each blog that lists the blessings I've had that day. I've titled it Sprinkles of Blessings, because of the period of life I'm going through right now, and I'm hoping it will help to give me a more positive outlook on the challenges! So here goes!

Sprinkles of Blessings
  1. I'm thankful that in the midst of this struggling economy, I still have a job, even if it is going to half-time in August. I'm also thankful I'll still be able to pay my bills, even if I won't have any extra cash at the end of the month.
  2. I scheduled a tire rotation for Friday at the perfect time and it's free
  3. My car is being fixed (a gasket blew? I really have no idea what is under my car's bonnet!)
  4. I was able to resolve something at work that was left unresolved for 10 years
  5. I did my last load of laundry and have clean clothes again!
  6. I was able to check a lot of things off my to-do-list at work
  7. Top Model is a 2-hour finale :)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Words Cannot Flow, But Blessings Still Do

Just returned from my best friend's graduation weekend, I sit and struggle to write my next entry. It's not that I don't have words to write, because I do, but I cannot write. The emotions, the thoughts, the experiences cannot be put to paper because they are too real.

I am grateful for the weekend I had, though. For a few days I was able to forget everything, empty my mind of the racing thoughts that inhabit it every waking moment, and experience the healing of the heart that friendship grants.

A blessing today is that the visa bulletin has moved forward 8.5 months in the last two months. Usually, when I check the visa bulletin once a month when they update it, it moves a month, or at the most 2.5 months, but never 4 to 4.5 months at a time! I know it is very unpredictable, and I can't count on it continuing to advance at this rate, but if it were, my date would come current in December of this year! Fingers crossed, prayers going up sounding like, "please, please, please, dear God, let it work out," as I wait to see how He will lead.

"I will wait for the LORD, Who is hiding His face from the house of Jacob. I will put my trust in Him." ~ Isaiah 8:17, NIV

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Taking to the Skies

Well I'm super excited because I just booked my ticket to London! I'll be there for a full week, between time spent in the Netherlands both before and after, so I'm gonna be running around quite busily during my vacation! I was looking for tickets online last week, trying to find the perfect itinerary and feeling rather frustrated because everything was either too expensive or left at the wrong time. This afternoon, I was trying to think about what I should accomplish today and realized I needed to book that ticket before it got too late.

So back online I went, and somehow the right combination of dates and websites lent me a perfect itinerary for the grand total of $39 for the ticket. And an additional $129 for taxes and fees. And an additional $38 for travel insurance. But at $206 for a round-trip from Amsterdam to London, with a brief stopover in Hamburg (now I wish I was going longer so I could actually do some sightseeing in Germany and Austria and France. . .and I wish I were a millionaire as well!), well you can't beat that price so I'm happy.

Now it's off to Wal-mart to buy some fun and practical presents for the family!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Solitude for the Weary

A good friend told me they wake up every morning with at least a half day's work of interesting things to do swirling about in their mind. As they have a more than full-time job, they have to resort to writing those ideas down on little scraps of paper. Needless to say, their pile of scraps is growing rapidly. I can identify. I wake up, or usually go to bed, with a thousand thoughts of what to blog about. Too lazy to write the ideas down, however, I must resort to waiting for the inspiration to come around again before I can sit down to write.

In thirty minutes I head to the cafeteria to prepare lunch for about 30 people, give or take a few. It will be a busy day today and I'll be on my feet for most of it, but I enjoy doing cafeteria chores so I don't mind. There's something very primitive and yet satisfying about participating in the basic act of preparing food, working in a familiar environment, and being able to work for several hours and not have to think.

That is my problem. I've been thinking too much these past few days, though when I stop to really think about it, I've probably been thinking too hard for some time now. Though I am a sanguine, ironically when it comes to dealing with the gray days I tend to go introspective like the melancholy who hides deep within. I do talk it out, but I am finding that the older I become, the more I need to also process in silence. Often, even silence must be given sufficient time to fully shroud the grief, the pain, the confusion, the frustration, the anger, the loneliness, and all the other emotions that come with trying times.

There have been a lot of changes happening and while I recognize that change is a very real part of life, I cannot come to terms with change that comes about through injustice. Frustrated that I am powerless to do anything, to make a statement of any type that will even be looked at, let alone heard, I feel like I am beating against a fifty-foot thick cement wall with my bare hands. So once again, I must retreat to silence where at least I will not be judged, condemned or treated condescendingly.